The Scum Gentry Guide to Living Foolishly by The Scum Gentry Press and Contributors

This varied anthology is guaranteed to make the reader think. Poetry, prose and art rub shoulders with interesting analysis, while a sensible appreciation of an essay by philosopher Bertrand Russell makes the cut.

Austerity provides the context for the book. But the grimness of reality does not submerge the creativity of the writers in question. Of course, the individuals involved in the project have literary influences, but they have pulled together something new.

Not everyone will be pleased by the result. People who worship authority may not enjoy the reading experience. Equally, critics who are wedded to political correctness might not appreciate each piece of work in the collection.

However, it should be remembered that real political correctness is a form of courtesy. It is all about extending politeness to groups which suffer from disadvantage. Political correctness should not be used to limit artistic expression unless there is likely to be genuine social harm. Therefore this colourful text will not offend any freethinking person.




SKWAWKBOX and crowd management

The overt bias against Jeremy Corbyn in much of the media triggered the creation of sites like SKWAWKBOX. Pluralism in the production of content is a healthy thing in a country which aspires to be a democracy. Democracy is not the end of a process, but something which needs to be fought for on a continuous basis. And a diverse media is part of that struggle.

However, questions may be asked about SKWAWKBOX. Like any other producer of content, the site needs regular updates. This means that it may have a tendency to chase clicks. More serious is its hostility to Jon Lansman. Obviously, Lansman was instrumental in the creation of Momentum. Since then, he has made controversial decisions. But there is no objective reason why the veteran political operator should not have stood in the contest to be the General Secretary of the Labour Party.

Any political strategy has risks. And the move by Lansman did have the potential to shake things up. But turning the Labour Party into a democratic social movement cannot be done by stealth. The resistance to change is strong within the different party structures.

SKWAWKBOX is entitled to back a candidate for any post. However, its shrillness means that the reader may lose faith in its credibility as an information source. While Jennie Formby is a candidate with many appropriate qualifications, the excessive enthusiasm of SKWAWKBOX is not doing much for her campaign. Is SKWAWKBOX engaged in the manipulation of crowds, or does it have something valuable to say to its readers?

5.99 per cent

Numbers can speak as loudly as words. The famous geographer David Harvey highlighted how local authorities were behaving like businesses in 1989. But the democratic process in the UK means that councils can hide their corporate behaviour from the people. Diversity in the performance of local government and divergent attitudes to the private sector mean that the illusion of choice can be revived from time to time. Furthermore, the downloading of blame onto the local state by central government may fool the citizen into thinking that austerity has changed the situation in a fundamental sense.

Fortunately, numbers can demystify the situation. Priceless: the Hidden Psychology of Value was made available to the public at £12.99. The author William Poundstone devoted a whole chapter to 99-cent stores. These retailers used ‘charm prices’ to persuade customers that they were getting a significant bargain.

The Corbyn surge was all about a ‘new politics.’ The problem is that many Labour councils are unwilling to abandon old strategies. The issue is that the public are seen as just another source of revenue. While the needs of citizens are not addressed because of the perceived imperative to pass on the dictates of the central state,  council tax rises way above inflation are being implemented in April.

The inflation-busting council tax rise hits poor people especially hard. This is in part because council tax is a priority debt. However, the council tax is also regressive; rich people pay a small proportion of their wealth to receive services. While local politicians may come up with a discourse about democracy, bills locally are going to increase by a hefty 5.99 per cent. People may want to vote for the Labour Party in council elections as a gesture that they support the national project, but the fact is that the typical council is a business because it sells itself as such.

Municipal socialism (then and now)

Any discussion of municipal socialism in the UK has to consider the past. While definitions of socialism vary considerably, the limitations of local politics also impact on the debate. However, few historians would dispute that municipal socialism has had a significant impact on the political culture of the UK. The example of Red Poplar, where 30 councillors went to prison for helping the poor, is an instructive one from the 1920s. Future Labour Party leader George Lansbury participated in the struggle.

During the 1980s, pressure on local government was coming from the Conservative Party. Mrs Thatcher was determined to crush opposition to her brand of neoliberalism. Municipal socialism broke out in places like Liverpool. The militant infiltration of the local authority caused discord among the Labour movement. Its firm opposition to the agenda of the New Right did not win support from Neil Kinnock. The moderate Labour leader was brutal in his speech to the Labour Party Conference:

“I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.”

The latest round of municipal socialism has come round on the watch of Jeremy Corbyn. Local government funding has been slashed since the end of Gordon Brown’s administration. Recent controversy surrounds a public-private partnership in Labour-held Haringey. The likely impact of the Haringey Development Vehicle aroused huge dissatisfaction among local people. The left seem to be taking power, but former council leader Claire Kober has made allegations about misogynistic bullying. Corbyn has to tread carefully if he is to avoid the fate of Kinnock, a party leader who never won a general election.

The construction of a UKIP ‘leader’?

UKIP is a troubled political party. It feeds on the misery of the ‘left behind.’ By fanning prejudice, it provides cover for the British ruling class. However, it currently finds it hard to secure media space because the Tory Party has camped on its territory. It is in this context that its successive leadership crises can be interpreted.

UKIP must want an authentic leader like Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s popularity with the Labour membership partly stems from his awkward relationship with the party establishment. Despite compromising on several important political issues, Corbyn has the reputation of abstaining from opportunism.

If the dreadful Henry Bolton can endure, he may emerge as a UKIP leader who has shown obstinacy in the face of pressure to resign. UKIP members might relate to the overt racism of Bolton’s girlfriend. Further, they may warm to an enemy of political correctness.

UKIP could seem to have lost it’s raison d’etre but complacency is never a prudent attitude. As Britain’s cold streets get meaner, a revival of the most unpleasant mainstream British political party is possible. The Labour Party must reach struggling communities with a message of hope.

No Fixed Abode by Charlie Carroll

This odd book is about being a tramp. Decades ago, the experience of being a tramp was not an unusual one. Nowadays, being homeless is unfortunately common, but the tramp era has largely passed in the UK. The confused narrative of Charlie Carroll partly explains why this is the case.

Mr Carroll never felt homeless because he had a home to fall back on. He never felt futile because he had a book to write. Nor did he feel without power. As a result, he was confident enough to speak with Jeremy Paxman, Boris Johnson and the police. While Mr Carroll endured considerable deprivation and fear, his literary experiment remained just that.

The hostility of Mr Carroll to the Occupy Movement is illuminating. As someone who pitched a tent near St Paul’s, he was in a great position to try to engage with the politics of the protest. However, Mr Carroll  is always reluctant to engage in the economics behind increasing homelessness.  So it is no surprise that there is no real attempt to get to grips with important debates about capitalism, austerity and the financial crisis.

The text is an interesting one to read, but Mr Carroll went on an arduous journey that taught him more about survival than it did about life. He wrote down what he saw and heard, but he did not reflect on the biases which shaped his work. As homelessness has mounted across the UK since his publication was released, his book has dated quickly. This is because he looked at broken individuals instead of trying to understand the evolving society which had shaped their awful lives.

Don’t Foucault Iran

“It is often said that the definitions of an Islamic government are imprecise. On the contrary, they seemed to me to have a familiar but, I must say, not too reassuring clarity. “These are basic formulas for democracy, whether bourgeois or revolutionary,” I said. “Since the eighteenth century now, we have not ceased to repeat them, and you know where they have led.” But I immediately received the following reply: “The Quran had enunciated them way before your philosophers, and if the Christian and industrialized West lost their meaning, Islam will know how to preserve their value and their efficacy.”

Michel Foucault

One of the most cited academics in the world, Michel Foucault, was misled by the Utopian rhetoric of the Iranian Revolution. Foucault was opposed to Marxism, and was desperate to see something that was fresh emerge from the wreckage of imperialism. Decades later, the temptation for Western observers to impose their own thoughts on the struggle in Iran is strong.

The current protests may well have economic roots. But they have serious political implications. It is not for Westerners to understand what these might be. The media is not a reliable source of information about what must be a confused picture on the ground.

There is an imperialist pattern of intervention in the region. Those who see fast profits to be made will always rush to judgement. Reflective people would do well not to be dragged into the position of Foucault. It is easy to misread situations at a distance, regardless of how progressive one thinks one is.